Buying Your First Racket

Newgy Robo-Pong
This following question was posed on the table tennis newsgroup,, by Henry Berlin:

"I was recently told that when buying one's first racket, it is a good idea to get a blade designed for good control, but to get more offensive rubbers because it's important to get used to the feel of rubbers you'll use when you're better. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated." 

To which I replied:

Henry, you ask a good question, one that does not have a simple answer. Many coaches at present believe in starting their students with the type of racket your describe - a medium speed, flexible blade with spinny/fast rubber on it. With diligent practice, I believe this is a good strategy, but only if you're committed to practice many hours a week with this type of racket. 

There are several dangers to this: (1) If you don't have a coach to help mold your strokes and improve your technique, the fast rubber often leads to shortened strokes and letting the rubber add speed/spin to your shots instead of using proper stroke technique. This often leads to a sense that you have greatly improved the speed/power of your shots, when in actuality, all you've done is use a faster/spinnier rubber. In crucial game situations, relying on the rubber instead of solid technique often leads to unnecessary losses. (2) The faster/spinnier rubbers will be harder to handle than rubbers that emphasize control. Without proper technique, your power shots will tend to go sailing off the end of the table and returning spinny serves, fast loops, and heavy chops will be very difficult. 

The other prevalent theory on what to use for a starting racket is to use a medium speed, flexible blade with high control rubber on it. Use this combination to learn the basic strokes— counter, push, block, smash, beginning loop, and basic serve and serve return techniques. When you have good control over these strokes, switch to a faster, spinnier rubber and continue your development by mastering the various loop variations, learning to increase your power, and adding more complicated serve and serve return techniques. I does seem to hold true that there is some difficulty during the switchover phase as you adapt your strokes to the faster/spinnier rubber. But at least you'll have a solid foundation for your strokes already. 

So which way do you go? In general, I would say that you should consider your objectives and personality. If you're committed to serious training with a coach, you tend to like power, and you don't mind spending $30-$40 per sheet of rubber, then perhaps the faster/spinnier rubber from the start is the way to go. If you're more of a recreational player and/or you play more games than you practice, I believe the second strategy would be advisable. Particularly if you're not looking to become a high level player and/or you don't want to spend a lot of money on your equipment. 

In observing players (up to say 2000 or so rating), who have developed under these two theories, I can make a few generalities: (1) Players using theory one tend to have well-developed power games, but their table game often lets them down. If they're "on", they're awesome. If they're not, they look terrible. Often high control players who have good placement frustrate them. (2) Players using theory two often have well-developed table games with good ball placement but do not have strong looping games. 

I developed using theory two. Even today, after playing for 29+years, I can rely on the basics to win many games, even though I seldom play any more. I still tend to view my looping game as much weaker than the rest of my game. Yes, I can loop, and loop very well, with all the many variations, but when it comes to crunch time in a tournament match, I stay with the tried and true basics of the game. 

If theory two sounds more like the path you want to take, I would recommend the Newgy Applause. This is by far, in my humble opinion, the best buy for recreational grade rackets available today.

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